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Ever wondered who is on the wee boat clearing litter from The Water of Leith?


Long before there was any human activity, The Water of Leith flowed by the path of least resistance from the Pentland hills out into the Firth of Forth Estuary.

Anything in the river has the potential to be carried downstream by the force of the water as it makes its inevitable journey out to the sea.

What started as mostly woody debris was replaced over the years by sewage effluent, waste from water mills and the boat building industries during the life of the river.

Edinburgh is a very different place now with the heavy industry gone and disposable plastics common place in all our shopping.

In 2022 a typical clean up reaps the reward of wet wipes, dog balls, trollies and traffic cones. Unlike other local rivers like the Esk and Almond where the waste goes out to sea, the Water of Leith is unique in having an operating port at the end and a boom stopping the waste getting into said port and estuary beyond.

This boom. under the Victoria Swing Bridge, gives us a final opportunity to retrieve the unwanted plastic litter before it does lasting harmful damage to the marine species.

However, for this to happen it also means Leith must face the brunt of an unsightly build up especially after a stormriver.

In January 2020 during a particularly unsightly spell. A partnership agreement to tackle the litter problem was struck between The Council, Water of Leith Conservation Trust (WOLCT), Forth Ports Authority and various landowners.

Since then the WOLCT has carried out 25 monthly clean-ups of the Leith stretch of river on the first Wednesday of every month. It is our volunteers and staff that you see in high visibility vests both on the streets and in the boat with their litter pickers and grappling hooks removing all they can reach from the river and local greenspaces. In a normal outing the boat team fills two 4-ton bags with litter

The plastic in the river is, of course, not just coming from Leith. It’s coming from its whole length, a takeaway food container thrown in the river at Balerno has a good chance of ending up under Victoria Swing Bridge as does litter ending up in the always overflowing litter bin on the walkway at Stockbridge.

Thus, WOLCT has been carrying out litter clean-ups from Balerno down to Leith since 1988. We currently go out between 3 -5 times a week carrying out conservation tasks.

Approximately a third of our work has an element of a clean-up to it. Yet still it is necessary to do the monthly clean-up in Leith, so you can imagine what the problem would look like without this effort.

We battle against litter as the Water of Leith is one of Edinburgh’s most significant wildlife corridors.

It is home to a fantastic array of wildlife including Kingfishers, Wild Trout and Otters to name but a few. It connects the hills to the sea through the middle of a capital city and everyone in Edinburgh benefits from the tranquility it offers

So, feel free to come and help us in any way you can in the hard but very rewarding task of keeping the river and its environs in a condition we can all be proud of.

It’s pleasingly easy to get involved: just turn up at the meeting by the Marine Memorial outside Malmaison on the 1st Wednesday of every month.

Or support us with a donation to cover the cost of the bin bags, litter pickers, gardening equipment, machinery and, heaven forfend, not forgetting the boat!

All of which are essential to our everyday efforts. ■
Charlotte Neary



Water of Leith Conservation Trust has been carrying out litter clean-ups from Balerno to Leith since 1988


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